Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls was a popular sitcom that originally aired Saturday nights in primetime on the NBC network from 1985 to 1992. It can now be seen in syndication frequently on the Lifetime cable network and Prime.
The show was created by Susan Harris, who had also created the sitcoms Soap and Benson. In its later years, it was followed by Harris' other series Empty Nest and Nurses, both of which took place in Miami Beach, Florida. Because of this, the three shows would occasionally have specials where characters from one show made appearances in the other ones in order to boost ratings.
The premise of the show was four older women sharing a fashionable house together. Blanche owned the house, while Dorothy and Rose responded to an ad for a room to let placed on a message board in the supermarket.
The show starred Bea Arthur as the sarcastic Dorothy Zbornak (early casting ideas cast Elaine Stritch as Dorothy); Betty White as dimbulb Rose Nylund; Rue McClanahan as sexpot Blanche Devereaux; and Estelle Getty as the witty Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy's mother (although Getty is actually two months younger than Arthur so was heavily made-up to seem much older). All these actresses won Emmy Awards for the show, the first time all the principal characters in an ensemble series won Emmy Awards for themselves.
Dorothy was an Italian girl raised in New York City by her mother Sophia and her father Sal. In high school, Stanley Zbornak got her pregnant and a wedding took place to give the baby a name. They were married for 38 years before Stan cheated on her with a flight attendant, Chrissy, on the way to a business conference in Hawaii. Dorothy found work in Miami working as a substitute teacher.
Rose was from the small farming town of St. Olaf, Minnesota, and was married for many years to her husband Charlie, until he died of a heart attack while making love to her. After living alone for a while, she moved to Miami to work at a grief counseling center.
Blanche was a Southern belle who was always the apple of her father's eye, even though she tried to spin it the other way many other times. She had many sibling rivalries with her sisters Charmaine and Virginia. Throughout most of the series, Blanche was portrayed as man-hungry. Her husband died one night when a drunk driver hit him head-on. She picked up a man at his funeral, as Rose said, because "she couldn't live without a man." Very vain, she always tries to act younger than she is (the youngest of the group, she is estimated to be in her fifties).
Sophia, Dorothy's mother, was eventually put away in a nursing home by Stan, and came to live with the girls in Miami when her retirement home, Shady Pines, burned to the ground. Sophia did not have many good things to say about the home, and alluded to poor treatment by the staff there many times throughout the series' run.
The Golden Girls was quite risqué for its time, as its main characters were four single old women who lived together, but were still up-to-date with pop culture and sexually active. Mild profanity and strong sexual innuendo were common on the program. Estelle Getty's character, Sophia, was written as a woman who had a stroke that destroyed the part of her brain that censored her speech, thus enabling her to get away with much more than the other women. Nevertheless, the show was hugely successful with older and middle-aged women in America.
The show was extremely controversial for often tackling topics that, at the time of airing, were taboo for television and often times simply not addressed in society. These included the coming out of Blanche's brother, menopause, domestic violence and senility. Perhaps the most controversial episode involved the character of Rose getting tested for HIV years after receiving an untested blood transfusion and having to wait 72 hours for the results.
The Golden Girls was one of the last sitcoms to have its complete initial run before the widespread advent of the Internet. With fans of a TV show now able to watch and discuss each episode, offer suggestions and even point out continuity mistakes, writers and producers have the option of keeping much better tabs on their potential viewers. As the Golden Girls took place before such avenues of communication were as widely available, the characters were written more as "concepts first, people second." While the sitcom was not unique in this respect, it did have its fair share of minor continuity errors, ranging from disappearing siblings and illnesses that may or may not have happened to the question of Sophia's age (after a while, her character simply replied "in my 80's" when asked.) One of the core cast members in the pilot, their gay cook, Coco, was dropped by the second episode, with no mention of what had happened to him. Subsequent series, such as Friends, have carefully-organized flashback episodes, timelines, and even profiles for the fictitious characters.
The show's popularity and decline
The first writers of the series were Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman , and wrote for the show's first four seasons. It was the popularity of the show's four leads and the stability in the show's writing department that kept the ratings as high as they were (eventually peaking at #4 for two seasons).
In 1989, Richard Vaczy and Tracy Gamble , previously writers on 227 and My Two Dads, took over head writing responsibilities, and were themselves replaced in 1990 with Marc Cherry (who went on to create Desperate Housewives) and Jamie Wooten . It was the abrupt and fast change in writing teams that slowly brought the ratings down, ultimately pulling it out of contention as a viable Top 10 show.
During the seventh season, Bea Arthur decided that she wanted to leave the series. The last episode of that season, saw her character of Dorothy marry Blanche's Uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen).
In the early 2000s, Saturday Night Live had a skit that comically combined The Golden Girls with the then-popular MTV show, Jackass. Satirizing the many teens who had gotten themselves injured or killed by attempting to recreate the dangerous Jackass stunts, an SNL skit featured a group of teenage boys who idolized The Golden Girls and got together to recreate the goings-on of the four old women in the show.
In 2003, Lifetime Television hosted a special Golden Girls retrospective, showing some popular episodes as well as a reunion special featuring Arthur, McClanahan and White reminiscing about their times on the show. Herb Edelman , who had played Dorothy's unorganized ex-husband Stan, had passed away before the reunion was broadcast. Arthur paid tribute to Edelman, saying that he was very nice and little like his character of Stan.
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